Art & Culture

Fair Play

Words by Alex Rayner

01 July 2020

People walking through an art gallery with colourful abstract sculpture

Take heart from Frieze’s plans to welcome new artists

After Frieze London 2018, we consider whether the art fair key to continuing relevance, lies in being a little more dynamic and caring.

The pavilion is packed up; the parties are over for another year, and a few thousand works of fine art now have new owners. Yet, with the closing of the Frieze Art Fair in London comes the renewed belief that maybe these sorts of events are pretty good after all.

Many in the art world love Frieze Week, yet in the run-up to the 2018 fair, criticism of Frieze and its fellow international art fair promoters was pretty stiff.

With fewer collectors willing to stroll regularly around the gallery districts of London, New York, Paris, Brussels and Düsseldorf, a common line of argument is that a booth at a fair is one of the few ways for smaller galleries to reach big audiences.

However, the costs of a spot at Frieze are high – around $24,300 estimates the Art Newspaper – and that’s without the ancillary costs of booth building, shipping and travel. Plenty of smaller dealers end up making a loss at events such as Frieze.

Meanwhile, larger, better-established galleries tend to get the bigger, more prominent stands, which they pack with pricey, popular offerings. Visitors, overwhelmed by the choice on offer, often choose to go with what they know, perhaps viewing a few of the smaller stands, before gravitating towards more familiar concerns.

Nevertheless, Frieze and fellow fair promoters such as Art Basel, aren’t deaf to these concerns, and are actually pretty agile organisations. Both, following prompts from big gallerists, such as David Zwirner and Marc Glimcher, have pledged to implement progressive pricing structures, lowering costs for the little guys, at the bigger galleries’ expense.

Those changes won’t hit Frieze London until next year, yet there are signs that, in 2018, it’s changing. The fair’s Social Work section focused on underrepresented female artists from the late 20th century, with a big sale of the Afro-Caribbean-British artist Sonia Boyce’s work going to Tate Britain.

Meanwhile, in the crowd, Rose McGowan – a prominent figure in the #MeToo movement – was joined by establishment figures, such as George Osborne and Claudia Schiffer. Good sales for once-outsider artists, such as the Brazilian graffiti practitioners OSGEMEOS, as well as the presence of long-standing critics of the status quo, such as Jenny Holzer, suggests collectors are open to change.

The Ruinart champagne still flowed, and big, old, headliner names, such as Man Ray – the sole artist on show in an excellent display at Gagosian’s Frieze Masters booth – still pulled in the big collectors.
Yet if there’s any take away from October’s fair it’s that Frieze – despite its name – is a far more adjustable, reactive and dynamic organisation than we may have realised.

For contemporary art advice and guidance, from collecting, to fairs and openings, please contact [email protected]

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